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Monday, August 31, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Review – Virgil Kaine

Virgil Kaine is a South Carolina non-distiller producer with three whiskey offerings including a ginger-infused whiskey (with locally-grown Yellow Hawaiian ginger and young Bourbon as the whiskey), a high-rye recipe Bourbon, and a high-rye recipe Rye Whiskey.  Virgil Kaine sources its whiskey from various undisclosed sources, some in Kentucky and some not.  All three whiskies are young and come with the “aged at least four months” age statement.

The mash bill for its Bourbon is 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley.  Virgil Kaine touts that its Bourbon is young “for a brighter flavor,” and is not chill filtered.  The ginger-infused whiskey uses the same mash bill, but is infused with locally-grown “heirloom ginger” (not exceeding 2.5% by volume).  Technically, 27 CFR § 5.22(i) might have classified this as a “flavored whisky” instead of “ginger-infused,” but TTB approved the label, and it sure has a better ring to it.

Additionally, Virgil Kaine’s Rye offering, “Robber Baron Rye Whiskey,” is actually a blend of a Rye whiskey (with a mash bill of 94% rye and 6% barley), with a small amount (4%) of its standard Bourbon.  I’ll need to research the complex web of labeling laws and the federal standards of identity a bit more, but I’m wondering if this 4% blend of Bourbon into the Rye, changes its classification as “Rye Whiskey” under 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(i).  Regardless, like the Bourbon, Virgil Kaine Rye Whiskey is non chill filtered.

The marketing story is that Virgil Kaine was a Civil War era railway conductor by day traveling the eastern seaboard, and a bootlegger by night, who built a still inside his train car.  He eventually was caught and was shot by government agents, and while on the mend, he discovered that infusing ginger into his whiskey “soothed bourbon’s bite.”  Rest assured, this is a marketing story, but Virgil Kaine isn’t pretending that it’s anything other than that.  Marketing aside, I wanted to know how these young whiskies from South Carolina fared:
Virgil Kaine Review

Disclaimer: Virgil Kaine kindly sent me 100 mL sample bottles of its
three varieties for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Whiskey:
Virgil Kaine Ginger infused Bourbon

Distillery:
Undisclosed

Age:
“aged at least four months”

Proof:
80 proof

Cost:
$25 - $32 / 750 mL

* * * * *

Whiskey:
Virgil Kaine High Rye Bourbon

Distillery:
Undisclosed

Age:
“aged at least four months”

Proof:
90 proof

Cost:
$28 - $35 / 750 mL

* * * * *

Whiskey:
Virgil Kaine Robber Baron Rye Whiskey

Distillery:
Undisclosed

Age:
“aged at least four months”

Proof:
91 proof

Cost:
$27 - $35 / 750 mL

Tasting Notes

Color:
The ginger-infused whiskey was the lightest of the three, and a little cloudy.  The three ranged from light amber to medium amber, with the Rye being the darkest, comparatively, but all still yellowish on an overall scale, which is perfectly age-appropriate.

Nose:
There was absolutely no mistaking the ginger in the flavored whiskey.  It was very distinct, and perhaps too strong for some, but it’s delightful.  Sweet vanilla was a solid second, and then it was rounded out with some corn sweetness and a little citrus zest.  The Bourbon’s nose was medicinal, and showed its high rye content, along with pine nuts and maybe slight smokiness; but overall I was not a fan of the Bourbon’s nose.  The Rye’s nose was similar, but not nearly as sharp, with some cedar and peppery rye spice.  It also had some medicinal qualities, indicating to me its young age.  Still, overall and in peer comparison, the Bourbon and the Rye had some indication of being young, but not nearly as much as other young whiskies, which can have terribly medicinal or airplane glue noses.

Taste:
As predicted by the nose, the flavored whiskey was strongly ginger, especially until my palate adjusted to it.  Instead of a pungent ginger, it’s actually very similar to a Kentucky Mule, which is one of my favorite summer Bourbon cocktails, or at least the ginger beer used in a proper Kentucky Mule (not the zippier ginger ale).  There’s not much warmth or rye spice.  It’s a very sweet drink focusing on ginger, vanilla, and candy flavors, making it refreshing.

Thankfully, the Bourbon lacked the harshness that is so common in young whiskies.  While it still had some of the characteristic medicinal bitterness of young Bourbon, it was not distracting.  It has some warmth, but not much.  There’s a fair balance between sweet (especially butterscotch) and dry flavors, but they’re subtle and underdeveloped due to the age.

The Rye was pretty remarkable for being so young and against peer comparison.  There was some slight dry puckering, but predominantly the flavors are citrus, pepper, and ginger.  I don’t think that the ginger note was from remnants of the flavored Bourbon because I still noticed it on re-tastings when I saved the ginger Bourbon for last, and when I didn’t try the ginger Bourbon.  There’s also some light fruit, but it’s very faint.

Finish:
Perhaps predictably, the finish was pretty short on all three.  The flavored whiskey, again, was dominated by the ginger, but not off-putting.  The finish on the Bourbon was the shortest of the three and was the most subtle.  The Rye had the most interesting finish and was the longest of the three (but still very short).  It was still a little one-dimensional (dry), but certainly a decent finish given the age.

Bottom Line

It’s pretty remarkable that Virgil Kaine avoided the harshness contained in so many other young whiskies.  It’s easy to understand how the ginger infused whiskey could mask young characteristics, but it’s harder to understand how they managed this with the Bourbon and the Rye. I wondered whether – because none of this whiskey is “straight whiskey” – Virgil Kaine could be adding coloring / flavoring / blending materials not to exceed 2.5% by volume of the finished product without needing to disclose anything, so I asked.  Virgil Kaine responded that neither the Bourbon nor the Rye contain any additives whatsoever.  In other words, there’s no masking.

I think that the flavored whiskey would be a great mixer, although at 80 proof, ice and other liquid ingredients will quickly move the ABV to a standard beer level, which of course isn’t a bad thing.  The ginger and vanilla would shine through, so this is a keeper for mixologists and the cocktail crowd.  Even adding to crushed ice with a squeeze of a ½ lime can create a version of a Kentucky Mule without needing ginger beer.  Additionally, I’ve always tended to think that wheated Bourbon works better with ginger, so it was a pleasant surprise that Virgil Kaine’s high-rye recipe might end up shifting one of my presumptions.

The Rye serves well for sipping, but I could also see this in a cocktail.  The Bourbon was third of the three for me, although it has potential.  While many of my friends and fellow whiskey enthusiasts love the sharp qualities of younger whiskies, I tend to want the mellowness and layers of more age, so I hope that as Virgil Kaine develops, they’ll have a chance to offer Straight Bourbon and Rye that has lived a little longer in the barrel. 

In the meantime, Virgil Kaine is currently available in South Carolina, Georgia and New York City, and is in the midst of launching in North Carolina and Tennessee, and it could be available online depending on whether your state allows shipping.  Especially because of the market’s fixation (and often my fixation) with extra-aged Bourbon and Rye, Virgil Kaine is a contrarian move to consider.

9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. The Virgil Kaine "legend" is plagiarized from The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band (the greatest American band ever to come out of Canada). http://youtu.be/jREUrbGGrgM

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    1. I can't believe that I've never heard that song before now!

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    2. Its not plagiarized.

      I love The Band, but their Virgil Caine (note spelling) character was fictional as well, was not described as a conductor, and was a half century ahead of the Virgil Kaine bootlegger. Plagiarism is too strong a word; inspired might be a better choice.

      That said, the song did go off in my head when I saw the bottle. I'm enjoying it in an Old Fashioned, and it feels like a good fit.

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    3. You're right that "inspired" is the correct word, and that fits right in with pretty much all of Bourbon. I'll need to try Virgil Kaine in an Old Fashioned. Thanks for commenting!

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    4. If you look up the COLA app you'll find that this whiskey was sourced from Terresentia and aged with the TerrePURE process. I also think it should be classified as a blend according to the bottling laws.

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    5. As I mentioned in the post, I certainly had questions about the classification and label. I hadn't dug into the source, however, so thanks for passing that along.

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  3. I fell in love with Virgil Kaine Ginger while visiting Charleston. The problem is...I live in Texas. I have not found a place that will ship it. Are there any other bourbons you find comparable?

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  4. If it's the ginger that you like, then I suggest a cocktail with your favorite Bourbon and some Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. Ginger definitely goes well with most Bourbon.

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